Northern Ireland's abortion laws to be challenged in High Court

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By Rebecca Black, Press Association

Northern Ireland's restrictive abortion laws are set to be challenged in the High Court.

The challenge, taken by Belfast woman Sarah Ewart, comes after the Supreme Court found that abortion laws in the region are in breach of human rights legislation.

Ms Ewart says she was forced to travel to England for an abortion after being told her pregnancy had a fatal foetal diagnosis.

She said she hopes this is the last time she will have to go to court.

"Time and time again I've told my story to MPs, courtrooms and judges," she said.

"Each time I re-live the trauma. I hope this will be the last time I have to go to court and prove that women like me should be able to access abortion services at home, without being forced to travel.

"I hope this case can bring a ruling that helps end the suffering for us all."

Ms Ewart is being supported by Amnesty International, one of five intervenors in the case.

In a Supreme Court judgment last June, five of the seven UK Supreme Court judges ruled that Northern Ireland's abortion law breaches the UK's human rights obligations.

However, it concluded that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (the body that brought the case) did not have the power to bring the proceedings forward, as it was not itself a "victim" of any unlawful act.

Amnesty's Northern Ireland Campaign Manager Grainne Teggart paid tribute to Ms Ewart for having "bravely stepped up to be the individual who takes the case to the court".

"It's a damning indictment on the UK Government's failure to prioritise women's rights and healthcare that women like Sarah are forced through the ordeal of the courts to have their rights vindicated," she said.

"Last June, the UK's Supreme Court made clear that the UK was in breach of its human rights obligations, but the final judgment couldn't be made because an individual hadn't brought the case forward. Sarah has bravely stepped up to be the individual who takes the case to the court.

"This hearing is our opportunity for an official judgment that Northern Ireland's abortion law breaches the UK's human rights commitments.

"It's a huge moment. People everywhere will have their fingers crossed with hope that the Belfast court rules in favour of women's rights and reproductive freedom."

There are four other intervenors in this case, including the Human Rights Commission, Humanists UK, Centre for Reproductive Rights and Precious Life.

Human Rights Commission chief commissioner Les Allamby also paid tribute to Ms Ewart for taking the case.

"Ideally, Sarah should not have had to take this individual case as the matter should have been resolved by the Westminster Parliament," he said.

"It is completely unacceptable that women and girls continue to face being criminalised in what should be solely a healthcare matter.

"We are intervening in today's case as we want the violations of Sarah's human rights to be addressed and the many other women and girls, who deserve better, to be protected in the future."

A candle-lit vigil had been due to take place outside the High Court on Tuesday evening by pro-life campaigners who are opposed to Northern Ireland's abortion laws being changed.

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